Welcome back to the next edition of Disney Extinct Attractions! My name is Cole Geryak, and I’ll be your tour guide on this unofficial journey through Disney’s past!
We are going to start this week off with a Disney theme park question again, brought to us by reader Steve Stroot. He asks, “During what years was the cuckoo clock shop near the exit of Pinocchio’s Daring Journey open for business?” Geppetto’s Arts & Crafts stood near the exit of the attraction from 1983-2007, helping fill the void left by the Clock Shop near the castle! Thanks for the question, Scott. I actually had to search through a physical book to find the answer, and this post marks one of the first records of it online! A big thank you to everyone else who submitted questions and be sure to keep them coming! In addition to the Facebook Group, you can now submit questions on the blog’s official Twitter page, as well, so be sure to follow it for lots of fun info about this blog and Disney Extinct Attractions in general!
Now, let’s shift gears and jump over to our featured attraction!
American Idol first aired on June 11, 2002 and sparked an American obsession with reality singing shows that still lives on to this day. The show was the number one show in the ratings for eight consecutive years, truly establishing itself as one of the most successful television shows of all time. Similar shows like The Voice and America’s Got Talent tried to feed off of American Idol‘s success, but the original was so trendsetting that no show could quite touch the original’s record-setting ratings.
Disney is no stranger to obtaining licenses from other companies to create amazing new attractions like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Star Tours (though Disney owns Star Tours now, of course!). Disney is constantly looking to become more involved with the most successful entertainment properties out there, so creating a new attraction based on one of the most popular TV shows ever was a match made in heaven!
What made the proposed addition of the attraction east to greenlight was the fact that there was already an empty theater for the show to occupy! The Superstar Theater in Disney Hollywood Studios hadn’t permanently housed an attraction since 2001, when Doug Live had graced its hallowed halls. (Ok, maybe they weren’t that hallowed because Doug Live was no masterpiece!) But that all changed on February 14, 2009, when the love of singing and Disney was in the air with the opening of the American Idol Experience!
What made the attraction so special was that the stars of the show were guests who happened to visit the park that day! If guests thought they had singing chops, they would visit the exit of the theater and sign up for a time to audition in front of cast members trained to search for talented singers. Those who made it past the first round auditioned again in front of a “producer,” who would assign the more gifted individuals to a show time during the day! I actually found a cool little video that explained the whole process and gave a behind the scenes look, so you can check that out right here.
Another cool aspect of the show was that the daytime shows of the day actually led to a nighttime finale! Guests who attended the preliminary shows would watch the carefully selected park guests sing. They then had the chance vote on who they thought was the best singer from that show, with the winner of each daytime show moving onto the finale show. (It actually functioned almost identically to how the show functioned, starting with judges choosing who passed the auditions and moving onto audience voting at the bigger stages!)
In the finale show, the winners of the day would all compete to win the coveted Dream Ticket. The ticket was described as the Ultimate Fastpass because it allowed the champion to skip to the front of the line at any audition for the television show. These guests would avoid waiting for days and be guaranteed a chance to audition!
Now that you have a general idea of what the show was all about, I’m going to do something a little different and turn some the writing over to my friend, Aaron Wallace. Aaron hosts the second longest running unofficial Disney podcast, and you should definitely check out his website because he is always posting great things about Disney and entertainment in general! Anyways, Aaron was a huge fan of the American Idol Experience, so I asked him to share some of his thoughts on the attraction. He writes, “The American Idol Experience wasn’t just a great attraction — big on showmanship and often big on talent — but it was also an important one. Scores of everyday Walt Disney World park goers ended up as contestants on the actual TV show, and high-ranking finalists at that. And it was other park goers who put them in that spot.”
As Aaron said, the American Idol Experience led to multiple finalists on the television show, with three of the season 13 finalists actually having used their Dream Ticket to get there! The most successful Dream Ticket winner was Aaron Kelly, who finished fifth on the ninth season of American Idol. It is truly amazing that a trip to Walt Disney World could lead to such success on a national level in so many cases! These achievements on the show proved that the American Idol Experience wasn’t just fun attraction, it was a true showcase for talented guests.
Speaking of the television show, the original judges on the show served as the inspirations for the judges in the American Idol Experience. Generally, a chill African American man (Randy Jackson), a bubbly woman (Paula Abdul), and a cranky British man (Simon Cowell) served as the judges for the attraction. Having these judges helped guests feel like they were having an authentic Idol experience whether they were a performer or an audience member. My only problem was that the judges seemed too much like caricatures, but that was their purpose, so I guess I can’t complain too much!
Other than that, I loved almost everything about the show and have a lot of fond memories of it. I remember visiting Walt Disney World in the summer of 2010, and my friends and I fell in love with the attraction. None of us were even big fans of the television show, but we must have watched the show at least five times in the week we were there! I think we saw at least three finale shows, and one day we even went to a couple of preliminary shows capped off by the finale!
We all loved how fresh each show was, truly providing a different experience every time we watched it. However, not everyone agreed with us, as the show did not have the greatest reception amongst park guests, or so people say. I have read about many people’s thoughts on the attraction, and almost everyone was a fan of it! I’m not really sure where all of the detractors of the attraction are hiding, but I would love to hear from those who didn’t enjoy it, so I know I’m not going crazy thinking they don’t exist! If you never saw it, though, you can find a video of the attraction right here and decide where you stand on the issue!
Apparently Disney did see a decline in attendance because the attraction was set to close in January 2015. But in an unexpected move, the attraction closed early on August 30, 2014, with the motives behind the change still unknown to this day! The theater was renamed the Hyperion Theater (not to be confused with the one in California Adventure) and houses a sing-a-long show based off of Frozen. Yes, both Hyperion Theaters in Disney Parks now host Frozen shows! I knew the film had taken over the Disney Parks, but this is the third attraction out of seventeen that I’ve written about to be replaced by the Animated Classic! Winter has come. (That may be a Game of Thrones reference, but I had to say it!)
Now I’m going to turn it back over to Aaron to help me close out the post. He says, “American Idol (the television show) was important because it contributed to the democratization of popular music at a time when pop music was becoming increasingly insular. The Idol Experience engaged guests in that democratization, elevating Hollywood Studios as something meaningful, relevant, and truly Hollywood.” I think Aaron put it perfectly. The attraction helped bring Hollywood to Disney Hollywood Studios, capturing the true message of the show, that America itself chooses the winner, just as the audience members did every day.
So with that, I vote you the winner of this post’s finale show! Be sure to use your Dream Ticket to come back next week, where you can skip the line to an attraction following these clues.
1. This attraction appeared in four different parks.
2. The attraction’s predecessor and successor were the same attraction.
3. This attraction starred the actor who played Dark Helmet.
Thank you (yes, you!) for reading and a big thank you to Aaron for providing those great quotes! As always, I love hearing everyone’s feedback and questions, so be sure to keep it all coming! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, on the blog’s Facebook Group, and/or the blog’s Twitter page!
I can’t ever pass up the opportunity to mention Spaceballs! Have a magical day!